Bible Engagement Blog: JumpIntoTheWord

Read, Reflect, Respond


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In Community

Among the highlights of my early adulthood were the times spent lying on the campus lawns at the Johannesburg College of Education while reading and discussing the Scriptures with fellow students. We had no program, no leaders guide, and no set time for our meetings. No one told us to do it. We simply had a desire to get together, open the Scriptures, read and debate. It was organic, compelling, and Spirit empowered. Along with, and spawned out of our Bible reading and discussion, we provoked and encouraged one another to love and good deeds. Our campus lawn meetings usually lasted for a few hours. Generally we’d read a whole book in one sitting (we chose the shorter ones). To this day I still remember our lively deliberations as we reflected on the prophecy of Hosea.

The Bible reading and discussions on the campus lawns resulted in significant outcomes. It deeply informed our faith development, and for many, clarified God’s calling on our lives. Several members of the group have served, or are serving, as full-time vocational missionaries, pastors, evangelists or teachers in Singapore, Egypt, South Africa, USA and Canada.

One of the characteristics of the church should be community. Yet individualism is often deeply entrenched in the church. Bible reading and reflection are a case in point. A strong person centred approach is the hallmark, particularly of Evangelicals. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with personal Bible reading and reflection – far from it. But it is to say that the fullness of Bible engagement comes into being when we read the Bible in community. This shouldn’t surprise us. God is shaping me as a person; but more importantly He is calling, gathering and forming us as a people. We’re in Christ together. That’s why life with God, by definition, is life shared with God’s people.

So what does this mean in practice? How do we do Bible engagement in community? Here are three suggestions:

  • Read, discuss and live out the Bible at the dinner table. Families should crack open the Bible together. The starting place for reading the Bible in community should be the home. God placed us in families. One of my highlights most every evening is reading and chatting about God’s Word with my wife, mother-in-law and children.
  • Read the Bible in a Bible reading small group. Now there’s a unique concept! Many church small groups are program centered or needs oriented but rarely Bible-centric. Imagine a small group where the primary focus is reading and listening to the Scriptures. Why not give it a try – it changed my life!
  • Read the Bible publicly. The norm for most Christians, historically and biblically speaking, is listening to God’s Word. Some local churches have strayed from these roots. When we gather to worship, the Bible should be read “not as information, not just as instruction, but as a summons to assemble together” Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams.

We’ll leave the final word to Richard J. Foster: “Wherever we are located within that all-inclusive community, we have the great privilege of seeing the Scripture through the eyes of the whole community . . . How boring life would be if we listened only to our own insights! How narrow our vision would be if we limited it only to our own understanding! How sad it would be if we missed out on what God has for all of us by failing to listen to how God speaks at various times and in various ways through parts of the whole.”

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Why Christians Don’t Read the Bible

Yes, you read the title correctly. Research indicates that most Christians don’t read the Bible regularly. Here are their reasons:

  • I don’t understand it. It’s intimidating. This is usually tied to difficulties comprehending the language the Bible is written in. The language problem is often associated with the use of older translations like the King James Version. The use of a contemporary English version goes a long way toward addressing this problem.
  • It’s boring. Some folk begin reading the Bible with the best of intentions then hit Numbers and their days are numbered! Admittedly there are portions of the Bible that a first time reader may find tiresome or uninteresting. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Bible, in large chunks, is anything but boring. If it was, it’s unlikely that it would have informed and undergirded the major themes and stories that define culture and life today.
  • I don’t need to. The thinking behind this reason is that the pastor/priest is better equipped to read and explain the Bible, so why not just let them do it. This line of thinking is sometimes tied to the struggles that people experience in interpreting the Bible and the recognition that we need theological help. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important for us to use Bible reading guides, commentaries, or other helpful resources.
  • I don’t know if I can trust it. Was the world really created in six 24 hour periods? Doesn’t science prove that some of the things in the Bible aren’t true? Why are there so many conflicting interpretations? These and many other questions raise doubts or skepticism. Not understanding the different genres of the Bible and attempts to read all of it literally may also cultivate confusion that leads to distrust.
  • I don’t have time. This reason tops the list. I personally think it’s a smokescreen for the real reasons why Christians don’t read the Bible. After all, we’re rarely too busy to surf the internet, watch television or go to the coffee shop. The fact is we think we have better things to do and choose to prioritize our time for what’s most important to us.

And the unspoken reasons that Christians don’t admit to:

  • It should serve my needs. In a culture of consumerized Christianity many people think the Bible should primarily provide guidance on how to behave or what to do in life. Outside of some favourite texts and passages the Bible doesn’t do much of this. It is not a user-friendly owners manual for successful living. So when it doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves, we don’t read it.
  • It doesn’t really matter. In their heart of hearts many Christians secretly wonder if reading the Bible makes a difference. They look around and see nice people who aren’t Christians and Christians who aren’t nice people. So they say to themselves, “Why should I read the Bible?”
  • I’m fine thank you very much! Ultimately we may shy away from reading the Bible because we try to sustain our lives in our own strength. Our independent spirits don’t want to confess the need to be dependent on God. Pride, lack of obedience, an unwillingness to submit, and a skewed view of God; in short, sin, results in a Bible reading disconnect.
  • It’s work. “Here then, is the real problem of our negligence. We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull or boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.” R. C. Sproul.

There you go. Can you confirm or refute the reasons? Would you add or subtract anything from the list? Have your say . . .

© Scripture Union Canada 2013